13 January 2008

Where're the Cops Now?

This fantastic, albeit sadly deteriorating building, was not an armory or the mansion of a would-be baron of industry. It was a police station, and from 1892, when it was built by architect Emile Gruwe, until 1970, when the cops cleared out, it served and protected the 68th precinct of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. It fell into disuse, and a fire did some major damage in 1980, but the Romanesque Fourth Avenue building was landmarked anyway in the 1984.

The red paint does the building a disservice. According to a New York Times article 20 years ago, the bricks were originally orange, which contrasted nicely with the terra cotta, nearly white limestone, dark brownstone and polished granite.

It's hard to tell what's going on with the place now. It was bought in 1984 by the Sunset Park School of Music (they were the only bidder and got it for a mere $15,000); a sign naming the school as the building's future tenant still hangs on the door. However, a Times account from 2000 reported that the school gave up the effort and sold it to the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association, which was going to turn it into apartments. There are some freshly minted building permits posted nearby. But no discernible activity is going on inside or out. It's not hard to understand why. A cursory glance at the heap would tell anyone that it would take millions and millions to fix it up. And who's going to spend that money on an arts center in mid-Brooklyn? Sad, but true.

It's funny. In both Times articles, people were quoted as calling the structure an eyesore. What is it about today's world that beautiful buildings fallen on hard times are eyesores that must go, while horrifyingly ugly new buildings that replace them are acceptable and an improvement.


Escape from Sunset Park said...

The day the police moved out, my teenage friends and I busted the lock and put our own lock on the door. We recognized the value of the building and wanted to show the community how important it was to preserve it.

Over the course of a few weeks, we fixed it up well-enough to stage a three day health fair. We attracted 1,776 people to the event. (we "rented" the building to the movie company shooting "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" to raise money to make the place useable for the health fair. Also, the telephone company "switchboard" for the area, now mounted outdoors on a pole was inside the building on a wall - it provided us with free phone service so we could call doctors from a medical directory that we "found" and have them volunteer to fill in blocks of time for the health fair. Our biggest moment came the night before the fair, when we had to lock the police out because they were harrassing us - in "our" building...lol)

After the health fair we held a public meeting to turn the building over to any group that wanted to use it - no one stepped forward.

A year or so later an anti-drug program - (3rd avenue based, primarily heroin, run by a man named Santana - it was a Christ based program) took over the building and they are the ones that painted over the brick & began putting white paint in the mortar lines before they abandoned the building.

The biggest mistake of the building was when the school of music had it listed as a nyc landmark - it made any future repairs unaffordable due to the level of "historic preservation" that had to be met.

For awhile it was in the hands of a group that wanted to put a for profit health spa in the building.

I absolutely love the building and it is a part of my past. There is an old horse stable on the south side of the building (Neighborhood Youth Corps used it for a summer or two - I smashed a chair against a wall in a dispute at one time and almost got my butt kicked by a couple of dozen guys) and a gang - I forget their name - bald headed, darkskinned guys occupied it for awhile - I stepped into their "lair" once with members of the Brooklyn Saints to squash an imminent gang fight - once again I was lucky to escape without a beating...lol. During this episode the police, now in the new 72nd precinct building hung the colors (a gang member's leather jacket on the precinct flagpole to show their contempt for the gang)..

To the west of the building is the morgue that was part of the police operation at the time of its construction.

I hope that the Chinese American group can save the building.

Francisco said...

I think that we could use the building as a focus to try to raise money via the politicos of the area. Whether that's possible, I don't know. But I do believe that it is a structure that needs to be preserved. I don't see it as ugly at all. More like a medieval castle in our nabe.

Unknown said...

Ive read somewhere that this building has an underground tunnel that was used to transport the bad guys from the precinct to the railroads or river on 1st avenue south of its location does anyone know about this? maybe this is why nobody wants to touch this building, makes sense to me!

Escape from Sunset Park said...

The Chinese American Association still has plans to use the building and although there is no activity at the site, there is activity in putting together the funds. the two difficulties are - the building is landmarked and thus renovation is hugely expensive, and second, the layout of the interior is not conducive to any productive use.